Why Schools and Professional Athletic Teams should not use Native American Names and Symbols as Mascots

The use of Native American names and symbols as mascots is a common phenomenon widespread across the United States and parts of Canada. Most notably, schools and professional athletic teams have been known to perpetuate this usage, often backed with the claim that they do so in only in good faith and with the intention of honoring Native American tribes. It is now typical to encounter names such as the Newton Indians, Mechanicsburg Indians, Cedarville Indians, and the Washington Redskins, all of which have aboriginal origins. Even though defenders of this trend point to positive traits such as bravery, commitment, and stoicism which they often seek to espouse, detractors are often quite critical of this tendency. Cultural appropriation, ethnic stereotyping and the effect that these representations have on the self-esteem of Native American children are some of the prominent reasons why native mascots should be retired. In recent times, the use of Native American names and symbols as mascots has had adverse effects on this particular community and a primary reason why this practice has to be discontinued.

 Firstly, the use of Native American mascots borders on an offensive case of cultural appropriation. In most instances, the said individuals are not even consulted regarding the use of historically significant names and symbols and often a clear affront to First Nation heritage. Similarly, Marubbio and Buffalohead argue that the blatant use of Native American logos and images is a power show that borders on neocolonialism and sheer cultural imperialism (165). In essence, it is propagated by the majority in an ethnically diverse society with the sole purpose of continuing a history of oppression towards indigenous groups. Typical, the view by these professional athletic teams and institutions is that they are of a higher standing in the social stratification and can, thus, do as they please without the fear of ramifications. Moreover, it is quite dismaying that this appalling practice continues against a backdrop of the brutal conquest and dispossession that Native Americans experienced. Since Europeans settlers made landfall in the New World, Native Americans have undergone unimaginable suffering that included the forced relocation to swathes west of the Mississippi River and systematized efforts to stamp out their cultures. It is therefore apparent that the use of native mascots ignores the sensitivities of a historically wounded people, while still unashamedly appropriating part of their rich culture.

 Secondly, the use of native mascots also represents a classic case of ethnic stereotyping and dysconsious racism. Placing caricatures of the First Nations in the media, school logos and as mascots inadvertently promotes a misunderstanding of a group of individuals who have often experienced prejudice within the broader North American society. In reality, the use of these mascots supports negative typecasting and is a derogatory representation of their culture. The U.S Commission on Civil Rights was well-aware of this fact and essentially went further to call for an immediate end to the use of native mascots in non-native schools and athletic teams (C. Richard King; Washington State University 191).It mainly raised concerns over the continued use of aboriginal-related logos in non-native schools, with some (such as Wapakoneta and Fort Loramie) using the contemptuous term “redskin” for their mascots. Moreover, the use of these inauthentic images is steeped in racism and violates indigenous intellectual property. Nearly all native mascots depict manufactured images and generic names that are often comical in nature. A typical portrayal customarily portrays an individual donning facial paints, body-length headdress and dressed in nothing but skimpy loincloths.  These counterfeit paraphernalia mock the Indigenous Peoples and is further exacerbated by the incorporation of chants, war-whopping, and dances that are sacred to the First Nations.

Thirdly, historically inaccurate images and symbols also hurt the self-esteem of Native American children. The continued use of native mascots is not a trivial matter and has far-reaching consequences for younger members of this community who are still impressionable. It is now quite typical for Native American children to be ashamed of their cultural heritage, a spectacle whose origin is in the mockery that they have endured as a people. The use of native mascots has been blamed for this state of affairs, especially since such delineations are capable of shaping a young individual’s perception and outlook of the world. Although a mascot may seek to display the warrior-like tendencies and courage that Native Americans are famed for, this is ordinarily far removed from contemporary reality. Native American children are part of a vicious cycle that includes poverty, deprivation and drug abuse which fuels negative subjective feelings. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug abuse and suicide cases are disproportionately high among Native Americans and more than 3.5 times those of other ethnicities (Dyer). The use of Native American caricatures and mascots, consequently, adversely affect their self-esteem, reducing them to a life of substance abuse, often leading to suicide. 

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In summary, a proper understanding of Native American names, symbols, and perception is essential for mainstream America in comprehending why native mascots should be retired. Distinct cases of cultural appropriation, ethnic stereotyping and a lowered self-esteem in Native American children have emerged as the primary reasons why schools and professional athletic teams should desist from using First Nation names and symbols as mascots. Hence, it is critical for influential members of society to afford the necessary intellectual leadership and illuminate the underbelly of Native American mascots while fostering a crucial perspective on the matter.

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